Protesters arrive on Parliament Hill ahead of main trucker convoy
As the sun set in Ottawa on Friday constant honks from truck horns could still be heard through the downtown core, as hundreds of convoy participants began gathering around Parliament Hill in what’s set to be a “unique, fluid, risky, and significant” protest, according to city officials.
Stretches of local roadways were closed, or reduced to a few lanes as truckers and drivers of other vehicles—some sporting Canadian and other flags— began to cause what could be days of gridlock across Ottawa, with the main protesting set to begin on Saturday morning.
The protesters do not have a permit for their event, officials said Friday, and it was unclear what washroom and other facilities will be accessible to those participating this weekend.
During a briefing on Friday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters that local police have called in reinforcements from other cities, and are working with provincial and national agencies including the RCMP to prepare for an event that has garnered attention across the country as well as internationally.
“These demonstrations are national in scope, they're massive in scale. Unfortunately, they are polarizing in nature,” Sloly said, adding that “significantly more” national security and emergency service resources have been called into Ottawa for the weekend.
There are drivers converging from different routes originating from British Columbia, Atlantic Canada and many places in-between, that are all soon set to be landing into Ottawa with plans to spend the weekend protesting the federal government and pandemic restrictions that they feel curb their freedoms.
Gatherers CTV News spoke with voiced a range of grievances they had come to express, with some of those taking part suggesting they’ll stay in town until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau resigns, or the government is removed, neither of which are anticipated outcomes.
Convoys from Western Canada were scheduled to arrive in Arnprior, Ont. late Friday afternoon, before travelling into downtown Ottawa Saturday morning. Big rigs from eastern Canada were anticipated to roll into Vankleek Hill Friday evening, before completing the journey to Ottawa on Saturday morning.
As the convoy picked up steam—raising now more than $7 million through an online fundraiser— concerns were raised based on some of the extremist and hateful messaging being put out by those claiming affiliation to the protest and the potential for the demonstration to turn violent.
Ottawa police have been engaged with CSIS and international agencies to conduct threat assessments and have said that while the “core organizers” have expressed their intent to run a lawful event, they are aware of “other groups and individuals” who have aligned themselves with the convoy and may not “share the same peaceful goals.”
Sloly said that police are prepared to investigate, arrest, charge, and prosecute anyone committing violent acts or participating in unlawful behaviour.
“We have intelligence assets and investigators who will be working throughout the entire event,” he said.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos defended the federal government’s vaccine mandates on Friday.
“The convoy of which we should be speaking, is a convoy of everyone being on board, knowing that the enemy is not vaccination, the enemy is COVID-19 and the best tool to fight this enemy is to be vaccinated,” Duclos said.
While Liberals and NDP MPs have voiced concerns about the event turning violent and have cautioned the convoy has become a vehicle for extremist rhetoric and “unacceptable” views, Conservatives have been meeting with and cheering on the truckers.
On Friday, both People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier and Ontario Party Leader Derek Sloan voiced their support for what Sloan called a “historically crucial” convoy. The political figures have both spoken out in opposition to COVID-19 vaccines and other pandemic public health measures as infringing on personal liberties.
In a press conference, Bernier said he plans to take part in the rallies over the next few days, alongside people who he said want their “lives back.” He also said that despite what some participants might be attempting to do, changes in the country should come democratically, in an election.
Some trucking organizations have made efforts to distance themselves from the convoy entirely, saying the messaging coming from supporters is tarnishing the largely vaccinated industry.
Because of the security risk, MPs and government staff have been advised to avoid the parliamentary precinct this weekend. Ottawa residents are being asked to brace for “significant” disruptions, and already two downtown vaccination clinics have been closed due to the convoy.
Despite some organizers asserting there will be upwards of hundreds of thousands of participants by the time the convoy reaches the capital, Ottawa police have said that they do not have a confirmed number of demonstrators.
With files from CTV News Ottawa